The “Old Statistical Account” of 1791-99 consists of detailed parish reports from every part of Scotland.
The report for the Parish of Uig was written about 1796 by the minister at Baile na Cille, Hugh Munro.
UIG, in the common acceptance of the word, signifies in many parts of the Highlands, a solitary place, much sequestered from the public eye; which seems to apply with particular propriety to the local situation of this Parish, it being separated from the Parish of Stornoway and Lochs, which lie on the east and south-east coast of the Island, by an extensive flat and soft moor, no less than twelve computed miles in length; on the southwest it is bound by the mountains of Harris; on the west by the Atlantic Ocean; and on the north by part of the Parish of Lochs, which in that place runs across the country from east to west.
It is situated in the County of Ross, Island and Presbytery of Lewis, and synod of Glenelg. The length of the Parish is ten computed miles, not including the wide entry of Loch Roag which runs into the heart of the Parish from the westward; it’s breadth is nine miles. The interior part of it is hilly, much more so than any of the other Parishes in the Island, and along the shore it is almost flat.
In many of the farms along the sea-coast the soil is sandy; farther back it is of a thin light kind mixed with a little clay, and a great part of it seems to be the last stratum of moss which has been cut away for fuel, and which produces forced crops with the assistance of seaweed for manure.
The air is moist and healthy to the inhabitants. The most prevailing distempers are rheumatism, erisipires. cholics, and epilepsy among infants from the fifth to the eighth day after their birth; if they are not affected with the disease before the eighth day they are not afterward subject to it. The surgeon in this country declares that the last mentioned distemper proved fatal in every case which came within the comprehension of his knowledge, two only excepted in which the surgeon attended.
One of the children which escaped suffered so much from the violent exertions of the muscles during the continuance of the fits that it’s arms and legs are distorted, and the whole frame is in a debilitated state and likely to continue so. It is worthy of remark that the infants of such parents as come to this Island from the neighbouring continent or Islands, or from any part of Britain, are not troubled with this affliction until such parents reside for many years in this country, and indeed few of them are at all troubled with it. This distemper prevails over all the Island.
This Parish abounds with small lakes and rivulets; trouts are to be found in all the lakes, but somewhat inferior in taste and flavour to those on the mainland. There are four rivulets in which salmon are caught in small quantities and used by the inhabitants.
The length of the coast, following the shore in all its windings around Loch Roag is forty computed miles; the shore is rocky. Dog-fish, cod, ling and colefish are abundant here. Great quantities of herring of uncommonly large size have begun to be caught in this loch within these few years. The herring make their appearance about the 20th December and remain until the middle of January; this last year (1794) upwards of 90 sail came from different parts of the kingdom; they both fished and bought the herring fresh from the country people at the great price of from 91- to 21- per crane (which is the full of a barrel of green fish as taken out of the net).
The uncommon gales of wind which prevailed this winter became fatal to some of the fishers and rendered their success, upon the whole, much less than it was in any year since the fishing last commenced. Forty years back and long before, there was an immense herring fishing in Loch Roag. Sweden was then the only market for the fish, and the abundance was such that the country people sold them for I/- per aforesaid crane. The cod is very plentiful in this loch during the herring fishing and when the herrings migrate they soon disappear.
The cods are sold fresh by the country people at 2d. each. Such of the inhabitants as incline to take the trouble of curing them can be supplied with salt for the purpose from two storehouses erected there by Mr MacKenzie of Seaforth, in which salt is kept for the benefit of the people. Muscles are found so plentiful that lime is made of their shells. Oysters, clams and cockles are found there. There are about forty tons of kelp annually made at Loch Roag, which is superior in quality to any other kelp in the Highlands of Scotland; this is efficiently evinced by its selling for at least a guinea per ton more than any other kelp.
Gallon-head is one of the chief promontories; it lies at the south-west entry to Loch Roag. The people of the farms to which the Flannan Isles are connected go there once a year to fleece their sheep and to kill sea-fowl, both for food and on account of their feathers.. In the Islands there is to be found, in the summer season, a migratory bird, called, by Martin, Cole, by others, eider duck, famous for its elastic down which it plucks off its own breast and with which it lines its nest.
Loch Roag, being the only one worthy of particular notice, is two leagues across at the entry and runs up in a south-east direction about twelve miles through the Island. This loch is covered with islands, several of them inhabited, and one of them is about eight miles long; its name is Large Bernera. The whole of this curious loch abounds with safe places of anchorage sufficient to hold the whole British Navy, I may say the Navy of Europe. The whole Parish is covered with heath except the inhabited ground at the sea-side.
In 1755 the population, according to Dr Webster, was 1312.
There are at present more instances of longevity here (as is always the case) than in any other Parish in the Island; several near 90 and some above that age are at present alive. They marry very young and barren-ness is scarcely know. All the people dwell in little farm villages and they fish in the summer season. The women do not fish, but almost at all times when there is occasion to go to sea they never decline that service, and row powerfully. When they go to the hills with their cattle all descriptions of sex and age angle on the fresh water lakes. All the woollen and linen cloth used for common purposes is spun and woven in the Parish.
There is only one surgeon in the whole island. All the inhabitants are of the Established Church. In the Parish are four or five carpenters and several persons who make brogues of leather tanned by the inhabitants with tarmentil root. There are no instances known of suicide. Many of the people of the Parish are employed in manufacturing kelp and many of them go for the same purpose to Harris and Uist. There are no trees to be seen nor any kind of brushwood.
The Parish never supplies itself with sufficiency of provision. The people have lately acquired knowledge and practice of the culture of potatoes to what they formerly had, and in proportion to the increase of this useful root, their buying of provision diminishes and bears a small proportion to their outlays in former years. About 15 years ago the present minister was obliged to give over the cultivation of potatoes, except a little for his own private domestic use because prejudices hindered the people from eating them, but his perseverance in using them in his own family at last convinced the people of their error and of the vast utility of that article.
A small quantity of flax and hemp is grown. Mrs MacKenzie of Seaforth has erected, at a considerable expense, three spinning schools in this Parish. Here they sow small or black oats (the only kinds used) in the months of March and April; they reap in September and October; they sow here a little earlier than in any other part of thecountry in order to be employed in manufacturing kelp as soon as possible. Barley is sown in May and reaped in the latter end of August and some of it in September. The oats are all cut with the sickle but the barley is plucked. The reason for their plucking the latter is that the roots of it make good thatch for their houses, and although they pluck it in rainy weather when they cannot carry on any other harvest work, it never heats and is easily dried with the first fair weather. Kail or Cabbage of any kind is not used here; since their prejudice against potatoes has been overcome they choose to bestow their manure on the latter rather than the former. The minister is in a similar predicament. That part of the Parish which lies farthest out to the ocean is very destitute of sea-ware; the interior parts are abundantly supplied with cut ware for manure.
The Gaelic is the only language spoken except by a few tacksman; but it is to be hoped that the English language, and of course, the knowledge of books shall become more prevalent as two schools were lately erected in the Parish. The names of the places are derived from the Norwegian or Icelandic tongues. Kerivick, Kirkibost, etc.
The value of the minister’s living, including the Glebe, and after a late and voluntary augmentation of stipend given by the proprietor, is £80. The king is patron, Hugh Munro is minister; he is the third since the erection of the Parish. MacLeod and Norman Morrison were his predecessors. The present incumbent has been sixteen years settled; he is a widower and has three daughters and one son. The manse was built about fourteen years ago. Two Kirks were built two years ago. Seaforth is sole proprietor.
There are 50 poor people who ask alms among the parishioners. Mrs MacKenzie of Seaforth gives £5 annually to meliorate their condition and the mulets of delinquents are laid out to the same purpose. All the people are remarked for a charitable disposition.
Price of Labour
A boat-carpenter here gets II- a day and his victuals; a mason the same; a male servant has £2 per annum with coarse shoes and his victuals; a female servant from 51- to 107-annually with shoes and victuals. There is not a plough in the Parish; all the tillage is conducted with crooked and straight spades; no carts nor wagons. The fuel is wholly peat.
At a place called Calarnish not far from Loch Roag there is an entire druidical place of worship. Some of the stones are very large, especially that in the centre. At Mealasta Teagh na’n Cailleachan Dubh’ or, the house of the black women. At Carloway there is a Danish Fort or donne with a double wall of dry stone; it is perhaps the most entire of any of the kind in Scotland. It is very broad at the base and towards the top contracts in the form of a pyramid; the height of the wall is 30 feet; the fabric is perfectly circular.
In ancient times there were many battles fought in this Parish by the MacAulays and Morrisons who had perpetual feuds. This Parish gave birth to the father of Alderman MacAulay, now living in London, whose uncle George MacAulay is still at Calarnish. The people of this Parish are remarked for their cleanliness and hospitality more than their equals in any other part of the Island. The number of boats is not below a hundred. Two or three open boats go annually from this Parish to Glasgow with salted beef, dry salted fish, tallow, etc. The people are very economical and are not fond of a military life.
If manufacturers were introduced here on a great scale they would tend to meliorate the condition of the people, because such employment would afford bread to the increase of population which prevails here as well as in the Parishes of the Highlands.
Very near the manse there lives a woman who has four distinct breasts or mammae. She has had several stout healthy children, and sucked each of them, and likewise one of the minister’s children. She has nipples and milk in each of the four breasts; the two upper are situated immediately under the armpits, and by being distended with milk are very troublesome to her for the first two or three months after delivery. Such a lusus naturae is very uncommon.
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